Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2003 Issue

Trivial Pursuit?<br>Collecting Vice-President William R. King



WHEREAS, William Rufus DeVane King earned income and maintained his lifestyle by oppressing and exploiting other human beings, and…”
And there’s no need to go on. King’s entire life has been reduced to this one wrong, a wrong commonplace in its day. Still, the wrong was so monumental one can hardly blame King County for the disassociation. Many of its citizens are descended from the victims of the horrible wrong King helped to maintain. How can they be expected to willingly accept that their county be named for him? Then again, to take the other side, should the state, named after slave owner George Washington, be renamed for Booker T? I don’t know the answers.

I only wish King could come back to explain. A progressive man for his time and place, he would hardly hold those views today. It would go a long way to answering the gnawing question “why,” and give King a chance to redeem himself with those who were wronged. Another Alabaman, George Wallace, apologized profusely for his actions before he died, and those he harmed appear, for the most part, to have forgiven him, even if they could not forget. Perhaps if King could have had this opportunity, it would be possible to remove this one huge blot on his life and remember him for all of the good and decent things he did. Sadly, this opportunity will never arise, not in this world.

For those looking to build a collection around William Rufus King, it is likely to be a short and inexpensive one. I have searched the Americana Exchange Database (ÆD) and Abebooks and found little. Based on what I have located, you’d think the most important thing he ever did was die. The aforementioned Obituary Addresses, printed for Congress is 1854, is the only King item easily located. Thirty thousand copies were printed, meaning you can find a good copy at Abebooks for around $20. In the ÆD I find two more items, again related more to his death than his life. There is a funeral sermon given by W.H. Platt printed in Selma, Alabama, King’s final resting place, in 1853. Another is a eulogy given in Clinton (North Carolina?) in 1853 by William W. Holden. Holden is an extremely interesting personality himself. He would go on to be a Republican post-Civil War governor of North Carolina, later impeached for “corruption,” a corruption which primarily consisted of his opposition to the Klan and growing racism.

Not much else shows up for King, other than books and posters which include him as Franklin Pierce’s running mate. Surely there must be some manuscripts and ephemera, but none is easily located. Perhaps his letters do not come up for sale at auction because few think they are important. But he was an important man in his time, and for a few bucks, you can complete a collection of the one-book King bibliography to be found.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>A Record Breaking Season</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> <i>The Book of Mormon,</b> first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold Sept. 30 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Vincent Van Gogh, <i>Homme à la Pipe: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Evening,</i> etching, 1890. Sold Nov. 2 — $161,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edward Ruscha, <i>Stains,</i> title page, one of 70, signed, 1969. Sold Nov. 9 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Carolina Parrot, Plate 26,</i> hand colored aquatint, 1828. Sold Dec.9 — $137,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edmund Dulac, <i>The Snow Queen,</i> watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, 1910. Sold Dec. 16 — $125,000.
  • <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321). <i>Commedia.</i> Venezia: Vindelino da Spira, 1477. Estimate: € 40.000 - 60.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DALI, Salvador (1908-1989) - William SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616). <i>Romeo e Giulietta.</i> Milan: Rizzoli, 1975. Estimate: € 25.000 - 35.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> MALVASIA, Cornelio; MONTANARI, Geminiano. <i>Ephemerides novissimae motuum coelestium.</i> Modena: Cassiani, 1662. Estimate: € 8.000 - 12.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> JANSSONIUS, Johannes. <i>Atlantis majoris quinta pars, Orbem maritimum [Novus Atlas, volume V: carte marittime].</i> Amsterdam: Janssonius, 1650. Estimate: € 12.000 - 18.000.

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